Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.
– Bill Gates
Volume 75 | Issue 4
July 2007

Public Policy Update

Safety and Violence Prevention

In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy and other school shootings, both the U.S. House and Senate held hearings and introduced legislation aimed at curbing the problem.

The House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on Campus Safety had four witnesses from higher education and focused on the need for better mental-health services and threat assessment as opposed to the need to change existing laws, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). When asked by if the laws needed to be change, none of the witnesses felt it was necessary. Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.) called for the passage of a mental-health bill before Congress that would force insurance companies to treat physical and mental health equally, arguing that it would allow for long-term treatment of people like Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter.

Members of the House Homeland Security Committee raised several questions to representatives from the Education and Homeland Security departments in their hearing, trying to square a proposed cut in federal school-safety funding with the growing belief that schools are ill-prepared to handle emergencies. Foremost on Congress members’ minds were issues of cooperation among federal agencies involved in school-safety oversight and communication between local, state and federal levels regarding best practices for emergency preparedness and response. Department of Education Deputy Chief of Staff Holly Kuzmich explained the proposed reduction in federal grants that go primarily to individual districts as part of a new strategy to work more on the state level to disseminate effective models of school safety. She said the department is willing to work with Congress to find the best "calibration" of federal money directed toward school safety.

The Virginia Tech shooting also raised questions regarding FERPA and HIPPA. To assist member schools in clarifying the applicability of these laws, the Consortium of Government Relations for Student Affairs is planning an audio conference with Lee Hooker, director of the Family Policy Compliance Office. U.S. Department of Education. He will respond to questions that have been submitted in advance by member institutions. Details available soon at www.acui.org.


Textbook Legislation Update

The movement to reign in the costs of textbooks has continued to grow. The current trend at the state level is to exempt textbooks from sales tax. Currently 18 states exempt textbooks from sales tax. In addition, five states currently have no sales tax. Legislation is under consideration in 24 more states to exempt textbooks from the state sales tax. Canada offers a monthly textbook tax credit for students enrolled in postsecondary education.

Several states and the federal government are considering legislation that regulates textbook sales practices and disclosure. Not much is expected to happen during the next couple of months; however, this may pick up steam when students return to campus in September.


Trend Watch: Expanded polystyrene bans

A few U.S. cities have banned the use of polystyrene containers for food and beverages over the past two decades. During the past year, the number has grown to 20 cities, most of them in California. In addition, the California legislature is considering a statewide ban on its use for take-out containers.

Many colleges and universities eliminated the use of expanded polystyrene long ago. Whether through voluntary or legislative action, this trend has the potential to impact the campus environment once again.